Director: Rolf Thiele
Writer: Hans Jacoby
Cast: Romy Schneider, Carlos Thompson, Magda Schneider, Josef Meinrad, Rudolf Forster, Erni Mangold, Helmuth Lohner, Gertraud Jesserer, Alfred Costas
Seen on: 20.2.2016
Nicole (Romy Schneider) comes from an artistic family. Her father (Josef Meinrad) writes novels, her mother (Magda Schneider) makes music, her sister (Gertraud Jesserer) draws, her brother (Alfred Costas) could be in a circus and Nicole herself dreams of being a poet. But talented as they all very well are, they aren’t exactly successful with their arts or rich. After a scandal surrounding a young girl who wrote a tell-all book on her sexcapades, Nicole hatches a plan: she anonymously writes a play of her – completely invented – sexual exploits. The play is immensely successful, even drawing in Broadway producer Mr Dott (Carlos Thompson) who wants to bring the play to the US – but only on the condition that he gets to meet its author.
Die Halbzarte is the Austrian attempt at making a screwball comedy 10 years after Hollywood was done with them and failing hugely at it. But there is something to be said, at least, for the production design of the film.
Screwball comedies have often been “battle of the sexes” films, often with women having the upper hand, though ending on a reconciliatory note. From what I know they have mostly had a pretty liberal agenda in any case. Not so die Halbzarte. This is a film where it’s okay for women to pretend to be sexually active as long as they are still virgins and actually nice girls. It’s a film where the romantic hero actually puts our heroine over the knee and spanks her to teach her some manners. It’s a film where she is constantly pressured by him to do things she doesn’t want to do, but it’s okay because handwave romance love handwave.
But even disregarding the problematic romance in the film, there are issues. The script is trying very hard and failing on almost all counts. It is neither as funny nor as smart as it would like to be and matters are only made worse by the fact that the direction is also very weak. The cast is normally excellent, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from what they’re offering here. Phoning it in is putting it mildly.
The best thing about the film was certainly the production design. Shot in a time where Vienna still had a flourishing and big film studio and obviously taking pleasure in technicolor, the sets in the film are explosions of color and design. It’s not necessarily how I would want my home to look like, but I very much enjoyed the bubble gum aesthetic in the film. Even when they took us to the fakest looking Heuriger [a special kind of wine bar] that ever faked.
But a great set doesn’t make a great film, even when the time passes rather quickly as you watch it. Unfortunately, Die Halbzarte couldn’t win me over with it’s antiquated, misogynistic morality and its weak script and direction.